Legends of Cthulhu: Pulp Horror Perfection

By bill - January 15, 2015

legends-of-cthulhu-featThe debut toy line from Warpo is an inspired tribute to HP Lovecraft’s pulp horror, as well as the action figures of yesteryear.

There’s a common misconception that in terms of toys, “retro” means dumbed-down, lazy or intentionally bad.  While some retro toys fit that bill, the best ones are able to capture a certain sense of magic, harken back to a previous time in toy history, and feature a truly iconic look and feel despite their inherent simplicity.  And Warpo’s new Legends of Cthulhu figures are some of the very best retro toys ever.

This new line, which launched from Kickstarter in 2014, is based on the monster fiction of HP Lovecraft, unifying elements from his pulpy horror stories into a single, adventure-ready narrative.  Our first lineup of figures covers a lot of Lovecraft staples– there’s the Professor, our adventuring hero who enters the realm of Cthulhu in a fugue state.  There’s the Cultist, a demented worshipper of the Elder God; the Deep One, an awesome fish monster; and the Spawn of Cthulhu, a miniature version of the creature itself.  These four figures make for a nice, diverse spread, and yet they’re all thoroughly grounded in the Cthulhu mythos.

I love this idea of creating a “kid friendly” story out of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythology.  This concept feels truly authentic to the late 70s/ early 80s action figure era that these figures emulate so perfectly, and it helps make the Legends of Cthulhu the best realized retro toy line since Super7’s Alien series.  But no matter how strong and well thought out the concept behind these figures may be, it would all be for naught if the toys themselves weren’t good.  Thankfully, Warpo’s action figures live up to their potential.

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Looking at the Legends of Cthulhu figures, it’s hard to believe these are the first releases from a new company.  From the excellent use of materials to the simple, sturdy 5-point of articulation design, these figures are remarkably well done.  It stems back to the brilliant sculpts by veteran toy designer Eddy Mosqueda– Warpo enlisted the Masters of the Universe/ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sculptor to give the Cthulhu figures an authentic vintage look and feel, and the result is perfect.  Yes, these figures are stylized to that era, but they’re still filled with texture and scales and folds in the clothing… perfectly emulating the time when toy sculpts were first starting to focus on those sorts of details.

Each figure in this set is packed with personality.  The Professor’s 1930s-appropriate bowler hat, mustache and leather jacket give him a distinct adventurer feel, without seeming like an Indiana Jones or Doc Savage ripoff.  The Cultist is wonderfully creepy, with his pale, ghoulish face and stark white eyes.  The design of his dark red robes is simple yet iconic, and makes for a very eye catching figure.  Each figure also includes some great accessories– a pistol and a Cthulhu idol for the Professor, and a knife, tentacled staff and a ceremonial Cthulhu mask for the Cultist.  They hold the gear very well, and each piece is a great addition to their respective characters.

But as cool as the human figures are, the monsters in this line are where it’s at.  The Spawn of Cthulhu, our first toy based on the horrifying Elder God, is outstanding.  The biggest of the figures in the line, this creature feels appropriately imposing, with a great stockiness including muscly arms and legs and a pot belly beneath his tentacled head.  The headsculpt is excellent, from the wavy tentacles and enlarged, veiny cranium, to the deep ocular cavities, painted black to highlight the beady red eyes resting in the center.  The Spawn of Cthulhu sports wings and a small spiked tail (a separate piece which plugs into his back), as well as the Necronomicon.

The Deep One is probably my favorite figure of the bunch.  While not based off a specific Lovecraft character, this fish creature feels right at home amongst the author’s surreal horrors.  The Deep One stands about 3″ tall and features a very unique, amphibious design.  His fish-like face is perfect, with its jutting teeth and zombie-like eyes, and the scales and fins and segments that adorn this creature’s body all feel wonderfully creepy, in a classic pulp sense– This guy belongs on the cover of some great dimestore novel, lost to the ages… but now he’s been realized in toy form.

Legends of Cthulhu 031One of the aspects of the Legends of Cthulhu which truly impressed me were the paint apps.  The paint work on these figures is gorgeous!  The various colorways for each character are perfect, eye catching and contrasting nicely with one another… but the shading and washes and small details truly make these figures come to life.  I love the striped patterning on the Deep One’s back, and the shading around the eyes on the fish creature and the Cultist which give them both a zombie-like demeanor.  The various details on the Spawn get highlighted perfectly by the light green accents on the front of the figure.  There is a lot going on with the intricate paint work on these figures, and the result lends a great sense of depth and dimension to them.

Tying the retro vibe of Legends of Cthulhu all together is the packaging.  Each figure is packed on a coffin-style blister card, featuring some excellent original painted artwork from Ken Kelly (who has done artwork for LJN’s Dungeons and Dragons, Mego’s Micronauts and more).  The orange tones, the blocky letters of the logo and Kelly’s great artwork make these figures really pop in their packaging… although they’re so great it would be a shame to not open them up.

I’m very impressed by what Warpo has done here.  The Legends of Cthulhu will serve as the perfect response to critics of the retro toy aesthetic.  These figures are not only incredibly accurate to the era that inspired them, but they’re incredibly fun, well made toys by any standard.  Being the horror hound I am, I’d love to see Warpo continue with more toys in the Legends of Cthulhu collection.  But whether they expand this series or focus on an entirely new retro line next, Warpo has most definitely earned a fan in me… and the Legends of Cthulhu toys have earned a permanent place on my shelves.

If you missed the Kickstarter last year, you can still add Legends of Cthulhu to your collection. Click Here to preorder at Big Bad Toy Store, or place an order at your local comic shop.

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